It’s hard to believe after survivng the epic summer of 2011, but winter is here. Today saw the first hard freeze of the winter season in Central Texas, where the ground becomes frozen solid and plants die. And folks in Houston (freezing) and Dallas (also freezing) didn’t have it any easier this morning. While you may have just had your AC on last week, chances are you’ve fired your heater by now.
Whether temps are in the 100s or 20s in Texas, there are several things you can do to increase the energy efficiency of your home. There are big-ticket options like energy upgrades or smart thermostats, and some utlilities are encouraging customers to make small DIY improvements that can go a long way towards helping your home stay warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.
Here are five easy upgrades you can do right now, from the Department of Energy:
- Find hidden air leaks and stop them. They’re everywhere, especially if you live in an older home: cracks and openings where air leaks in and out, causing higher energy bills and reducing your comfort. By eliminating drafts you can save anywhere from 5 percent to 30 percent on your energy bill annually. The department recommends looking at gaps along baseboards, plumbing, at wall and ceiling joints, and around electrical outlets and light switches. Tools needed? Removable caulk, about $12, or foam sealant, about $7 for a 12-oz. can. Here’s a how-to guide from the Department of Energy.
- Seal your windows and doors. Window upgrades can be expensive, but there’s plenty you can do to make your existing windows more efficient. The deparment recommends sealing all windows (see caulk recommendation above) and weather-stripping doors. If you can see light coming through your door, add more insulation. Tools needed? Weather-stripping, about $4.50 for 17 feet.
- Change your air filter. All the air for your heating and cooling system passes through a filter to remove dust and other particles. Keeping it clean and replacing it often means less dirt in your system, and a more efficient intake of air. “Generally, you should change them about once every month or two, especially during periods of high usage,” the department recommends. Tools needed? Filters, about $40 for a six-pack.
- Turn your lights down low. Lighting makes up about ten percent of your energy bill, and the fixes are easy. Switch to a lower wattage where you can (the department says you may only need 60 or 75 watts instead of the usual 100) and try using compact fluorescent bulbs or LEDs. Tools needed? Varies, but 60 watt CFLs can be found for about a dollar per bulb, and LEDs start at $10, but can last over a decade.
- Mind the attic. If your attic access is in the climate controlled part of your house, chances are it may be a source of heat and cooling loss. The department recommends weather stripping the hatch panel, insulating the attic door, and making sure it closes tightly.